As communities shatter and families lose loved ones, people across America continue to search for a way to treat opioid addiction. According to SAMHSA's (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 22.5 million people (8.5 percent of the U.S. population) aged 12 or older needed treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction in 2014. Only 4.2 million (18.5 percent of those who needed treatment) received any substance use treatment in the same year.
As some treatment centers begin to introduce medically assisted treatment into the dialogue, others believe that the best way to face the opioid epidemic is through complete abstinence. Abstinence based treatment is based on the view of addiction as a disease and belief that, through counseling and continued support, an addict can recover as long as they remain completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol. It is often found in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, but is also one of the most common treatment methods used for intensive outpatient programs or inpatient rehabs across America. The main goal of these treatment centers is to use behavioral therapy to introduce healthy life skills and modify attitudes and behavior related to drug use.
Research by MARR Addiction Treatment Center for Men and Women, looked into long term abstinence for patients who successfully completed at least 90 days of treatment from the year 2007 to 2014. They contacted a group of 122 patients two years post discharge. The study showed 63 of 122 patients who remained abstinent from drugs and alcohol. When the patients were asked about their long term abstinence, they cited AA, NA or helping others as what helped them most.
Since the rooms of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous don’t keep records of “clients” entering, exiting and re-entering, I spoke to two recovering addicts about their long-term sobriety. Sean Congelton, a 25-year-old South Jersey native, and Amanda DiRienzi, a 23-year-old North Jersey native, have been sober for over six months.
Sean has tried getting sober three times before this, “My drugs of choice were meth, heroin, and crack. The most difficult part of getting sober was just staying away from all the bad influences and thinking that being sober wouldn't be fun. I continue to stay sober by remaining active in the AA community, working.” Sean explained that without using medication, his withdrawals from opioids varied each time he quit- from a few weeks to a few months. Sean also explained that the longer the treatment, the better. He previously attended a 30 day treatment center and had relapsed before trying a 90 day center, which has worked best for him.
Amanda DiRienzi was addicted to meth, cocaine, and heroin. “Honestly," she say, "if you put anything in front of me I didn’t care what it was, I would do it and want more. The day I got sober was May 6, 2016. I got sober because I was so tired. After running from day to night, for years, stealing to get some sort of high,I just did not having anything left in me to run, I was tired, I was hurting, I wanted nothing but death, but even that took energy that I didn’t have so I reached out to a friend and stayed on couch and kicked (detoxing without medication) while they found me a rehab in Florida. I came out to Florida on May 13, but refused suboxone. I wanted to remember the pain, which lasted for me three weeks. I was in treatment for 65 days. I went to Our Place Recovery, in Deerfield Beach. Today, how I continue to stay sober is by reminding myself that any of those forms of drugs I did, bring me to a bottom, but the real issue starts with me and constantly day to day working on those issues through a 12-step program with my sponsor for me fills the void that for so long I was just numbing.”
Amanda and Sean are not alone in their fight for recovery from opioid addiction. According to SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in three households across the United States has been affected by the opioid epidemic. The CDC estimates that over 90 people die an opioid related death a day, and the numbers have quadrupled since 1999. Treatment is the first step in recovery, whether abstinent based or medically assisted.